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Republican Rep. John Kline

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Minnesotans blur party lines, divisions

  • Star Tribune
  • January 3, 2013 - 9:07 AM

WASHINGTON - Minnesotans in Congress could all find reasons not to like the New Year's deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, even as they split on the final compromise.

A climactic showdown in the House on Tuesday night divided the Minnesota House delegation evenly, with centrist DFLer Collin Peterson joining Republicans Michele Bachmann, Chip Cravaack and Erik Paulsen in casting dissenting votes.

On the other side, Republican John Kline joined Democrats Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz in voting yes on the bill, which was approved in a bipartisan 257 to 167 vote.

Both Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken also cast yes votes earlier in the day on the agreement to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all but the wealthiest Americans.

But the bipartisan support belied lingering party divisions that forced the budget debate into overtime.

Republicans in the Minnesota delegation echoed the strong objections of others in the GOP-controlled House who criticized the deal for raising new tax revenue without cutting spending. "The sobering reality is our nation remains in a debt crisis caused by reckless, runaway spending that is killing jobs and threatening the future of our children and grandchildren," said Kline, the dean of the state's GOP delegation,

Some sided with those in the Republican caucus who had sought to tack on a package of spending cuts to the Senate measure, which had passed 89-8. But amending the bill in the House was widely seen as a risky gambit to kill it.

Bachmann, one of 151 Republicans to vote no, called the legislation a "last-minute backroom deal that does not address America's jobs and debt crisis."

Democrats emphasized that whatever the defects in the compromise, it beats the alternative of going over a fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts.

"It was a negotiation," McCollum said. "There are some things here I don't get. There are some things that are pretty good. But it's pretty important for people to move forward."

Both Democrats and Republicans expressed reservations about what the deal leaves unresolved: The fate of spending cuts now scheduled to start in two months, and a final deal on the nation's debt limit.

Democrats like Ellison see the deal as a prelude to a two-month battle over proposed GOP spending cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

"The primary problem with this bill," he said, "is it tees up an even more difficult fight in two months over letting the country pay its debts and replacing indiscriminate cuts to programs Americans rely on. "

Walz, a centrist DFLer, had expressed a willingness to consider GOP proposals to cut spending. He issued a statement saying he was "disappointed that it isn't the larger, 'Go Big' type deal" he sought.

Franken, who faces re-election next year, expressed reservations about the reach of the deal in reducing debt and helping farmers. But he praised provisions such as tax cuts for the middle class and extension of unemployment insurance for the jobless.

He added that it was "crucial" to him that the deal did not make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

"While I don't think this package raises sufficient revenues toward paying down the debt or to make the investments in infrastructure, education and research and development needed to grow our economy, I knew that no bill would have 100 percent of what I wanted," he said.

Klobuchar also said she had wished for more. "I voted for this compromise because the last thing we should be doing this New Year's is sticking middle-class families with a tax hike," she said. "I fought for and wanted a larger, more comprehensive plan that balanced revenues and spending cuts."

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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